Set in a former Royal park on the outskirts of Milan, Monza is the fastest circuit on the World Supersport calendar.

It features a series of long straightaways and fast corners, broken up by some dead stop chicanes, brought in mainly to slow down the Formula One cars on their annual pilgrimage to this Mecca of motorsport.

Built in 1922 in only 100 days by the Automobile Club of Milan, Monza is Europe's oldest permanent circuit still in use. The old oval track no longer operates but has been preserved as a reminder of the pioneering days. Despite many alterations throughout the years, modern Monza has retained much of the feel of the grand old circuit that has seen so many famous battles on both four wheels and two.

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Monza is also home to the Tifosi, the colourful, passionate and hugely knowledgeable supporters who will cheer on anything built in Italy and painted red. It is also the local round for Yamaha Belgarda Team, whose headquarters are just a few kilometres from the circuit.

Even though the R6 has been the fastest bike through the speedtrap at each World Supersport race this season, the teams have been working on set-up strategies that they hope will gain a few more kmh advantage over the opposition down the long Monza straights.

The R6's big strength is the power delivery between 8,000 and 12,000rpm, which has been significantly improved over the 2002 machine, but many of the teams will be willing to sacrifice some of this flexibility in order to make gains at the top end of the rev range. That's not easy in such a tightly regulated class, but there are still a few ways in which the teams can optimise the machines' performance.

Belgarda Yamaha Team riders Jurgen van den Goorbergh and Simone Sanna have already tested at the circuit, using engines fitted with camshafts reprofiled for greater duration (Supersport rules prohibit teams from changing the camshaft lift from that of the stock bike) and the riders will also be able to experiment with the air intake system. A range of air box bellmouths are available and many riders are likely to opt for shorter than usual items as these will give a slight increase at over 13,000rpm, again at the expense of the mid-range.

With top speeds approaching 280kph, aerodynamics will play a big part in maximising the slipstream effect and squeezing every last ounce of performance from the bikes. Again, Supersport regulations are very strict and the shape of the production R6 bodywork must be retained - however, teams can change the screen and many will opt for a larger than usual item to allow their rider to tuck in and maximise the slipstream effect. The slow corners offer an opportunity to outbrake rivals, making stability over the bumps, another legacy of the Formula One cars, and front-end feedback vital to rider confidence in the white hot heat of the battle.

Good qualifying, or more precisely a good start, will be vital if a rider is to be in with a chance of victory at Monza and the first gear Prima Variante chicane will resemble rush hour Milan as the riders charge into it for the first time. At best a rider stuck in the mid-pack will lose several seconds to the front runners as he gets held up through here, at worst he can find himself running through the gravel trap as 25 bikes and riders jockey for position.

With four long straights, riders will be ''towing'' each other along and constantly swapping positions as they look to ride in the slipstream of the rider ahead, as the lack of air resistance allows them to reach higher speeds than they would unassisted. Making a bad start and failing to join the train of leading riders will make it difficult to gain the ground required to challenge for a leading position, although this effect also makes it hard for one rider to break away from the pack. As such races at Monza are usually close, exciting and difficult to predict. Last year's race was a typical example of this, with the top six riders covered by 3.3 seconds at the flag. In 2001, Yamaha Belgarda Team riders James Whitham and Paolo Casoli finished first and second - with six riders crossing the line immediately behind them!

French rider Fabien Foret (Honda) won the 2002 Monza encounter on his way to the title, while Yamaha riders were left cursing their bad luck at a track where the R6 normally excels.

The highlight was undoubtedly the emergence of Team Italia Spadaro Yamaha rider Alessio Corradi as a force on the world stage. The flamboyant Italian thrilled his home crowd, only to crash out of the lead on lap nine. Yamaha Belgarda Team rider Paolo Casoli led in the early stages only to struggle with slightly lean fuelling and a bad head cold, which forced him to settle for sixth. Team-mate James Whitham retired with a clutch problem early in the race. Yamaha Motor Germany's J?rg Teuchert was second Yamaha home in ninth place, after being baulked at the first chicane, while team-mate Christian Kellner crashed on lap two.

With a different rider, and manufacturer, winning each race so far this season, 2003 is shaping up to be a typically open World Supersport season.

Christian Kellner goes to Monza as the leading Yamaha pilot after winning the last round in Sugo. He lies third in the series, behind opening round winner Katsuaki Fujiwara (Suzuki) and Australian Chris Vermeulen, who won his home race in Philip Island. Kellner's Yamaha Motor Germany team-mate J?rg Teuchert is eighth, and looking to get back on track after crashing in Japan.

Monza is the first of three home races for Belgarda Yamaha Team and their satellite Yamaha Team Italia Spadaro operation. Belgarda's start was hampered when riders Paolo Casoli and James Whitham retired on the eve of the season for medical reasons, but replacements Jurgen van den Goorbergh and Simone Sanna have both risen to the task and scored points in each race so far, with Jurgen fourth overall in the standings. The team has already tested at the circuit and is confident that they can challenge for victory at their home circuit. Former European champion Alessio Corradi has already visited the podium this season, at the opening round in Valencia, and currently lies fifth in the points.

For Yamaha Motor France IPONE riders Thierry van den Bosch and Matthieu Lagrive 2003 is a learning year. But Van den Bosch, the current World Supermoto Champion, has already impressed despite having no road race experience prior to this season. He has been hampered by arm injuries after crashing in pre-season testing and will be looking to score his first points of the season in Monza.